The results of the recent Provincial Council elections are such that everyone can claim some sort of success. The UPFA got the most seats in all three Councils that were contested. The UNP did less badly than at previous elections. The TNA, contesting Provincial Council elections for the first time ever since Provincial Councils were created, largely to satisfy the claims of the party they have succeeded to, won the most votes in two of the three Districts of the Eastern Province.

Of parties that have representation in the national Parliament only through coalitions now, the Muslim Congress did very well in Amparai, and won seats also in Batticaloa and Trincomalee. The National Freedom Front got a seat in Trincomalee, and the JVP kept itself alive in the Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provincial legislatures.

Everyone then can claim victory of sorts, and will doubtless do so. My own feeling however is that the government lost a great opportunity to win a resounding victory, and at the same time to lay the ground for comprehensive reconciliation.

I refer to the fact that, for reasons that have to do more with personality clashes and personal predilections than policy, government did not contest the Eastern Province polls together with the Muslim Congress. At the time the decision was taken to break with them, I wrote  a memorandum for the President, though I suspect it would not have been shown to him.

I will cite here the salient points of that document –

For the bottom line is that the percentage of votes government gets in the East will govern both national and international perceptions about its standing in minority eyes. This must be enhanced if the government is not to continue to face the type of threat it has suffered from so badly in the last year or so……During my long sojourn in the East last week, I was told that if government and SLMC went together, they would easily win, but without the SLMC things might be difficult. I cannot vouch for this, but in the present context it seems absurd to take the risk. Whatever happens, government and the SLMC going their separate ways can only add to the propaganda use that will be made of whatever percentage the TNA wins.

I do not know if it was simple insensitivity that prompted ignoring this factor, or whether it was that the government feels strong enough to triumph on its own. But I am reminded of Mrs Bandaranaike’s serious miscalculation in 1988. Of course that was more serious, in that it cost her the Presidency. But even though this is not a Presidential election, perceptions are everything. Whereas a strong showing by government in the East would have helped the President considerably, I fear that whatever happens now will be used by those opposed to him and the government to undermine his position.’

I had mentioned what happened in the Vanni in the last local election, where in one area the UPFA and the Muslim Congress got over 50% of the vote. The impact of them contesting together would have been tremendous, for it would have made clear that government was popular in the North too. In that case it had been the Muslim Congress that had been recalcitrant. But in the East, when its leader was willing, against the wishes of some of his party, to contest together with government, it seems a shame that this opportunity to establish the widespread popularity of the government was not taken.